CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 13, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is the greeting addressed today to John Paul II by Bishop Denis Browne, president of New Zealand’s episcopal conference, on behalf of the bishops who accompanied him, at the conclusion of their five-yearly visit to the Vatican.
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Dear Holy Father,
We come as bishops of Aotearoa, New Zealand to visit you from that far distant land. We come to offer you our affection and love as well as our loyalty and appreciation for your dynamic leadership of the Church. We also come representing all the priests, religious and laity of the Church in New Zealand and all people of good will from that beautiful land. On behalf of all of them we express our heartfelt appreciation for your leadership and service that is an inspiration to all of us.
The New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference is a closely knit group of bishops who know that distance calls for a great depth of support and prayerful community with you as the Vicar of Christ. I can assure you, Holy Father, that the bishops of New Zealand consider themselves to be your loyal collaborators. They are dedicated bishops who take to heart the strong teaching that you give to the whole Church and call upon their own people to make that teaching their own. We thank you for the advice and the encouragement that you continually give to us.
As bishops, we took seriously the request you made in “Novo Millennio Ineunte”: “I therefore earnestly exhort the Pastors of the particular Churches, with the help of all sectors of God’s People, confidently to plan the stages of the journey ahead, harmonizing the choices of each diocesan community with those of neighboring Churches and of the universal Church” (NMI, No. 29).
In the year 2001 the bishops of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference set aside time together and reflected upon “Novo Millennio Ineunte.” This week of prayer and reflection became a source of information for us as we looked again at our own local Churches and sought ways of establishing a detailed pastoral plan “which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mold communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.” Each bishop returned to his diocese from that meeting determined to refresh the life of his diocese to work in close collaboration with each of the six dioceses and the military ordinariate that comprise the Church in New Zealand.
One of the outcomes of the bishops’ desire to work closely together was the holding of an assembly for all of the diocesan priests in Aotearoa, New Zealand. This assembly took place last year and was the first opportunity that the diocesan priests of the whole nation had to reflect together on the repeated calls that you make for us to build stronger and stronger communities. We were blessed in having Father Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., as the main contributor to the reflections that took place during the assembly. Father Radcliffe continually called us to reflect upon the role of the priest as a sign of hope, as the minister of the Eucharist and as men of hope and courage.
The assembly was an outstanding success and something appreciated by all of the priests who participated. The loyalty and support of religious and laity that was expressed in messages to the assembly contributed in helping the priests to discover a renewed appreciation of the gift that God gives to us in the priesthood.
Holy Father, we want you to know that the Church in New Zealand is served by wonderfully committed priests, religious and laity. Like so many other Western countries we face strong challenges. Each diocese in New Zealand is currently endeavoring to make extra efforts to promote vocations to the priesthood and the religious life in face of a drop in numbers.
We also face the challenge of a society that continues to become more and more secular. Currently, the New Zealand Parliament is giving consideration to a Union Bill that we are vigorously opposing. This bill seems to be one of a series of bills that have been introduced or are about to be introduced in a program of social engineering that can only diminish the Christian values that we hold so dearly. We seek your prayerful support as we continue to speak out and take every measure possible to ensure that the people of New Zealand do not have their dignity diminished through such aggressive legislation.
Holy Father, as a sign of our unity with you, we wish to present to you a gift of a Madonna which has become an important expression of the links between the Holy See and the Church in New Zealand. This Madonna was presented to Pius IX in the 1840s by the Benedictine Nuns of Campus Martius. In turn, this Madonna was given to Archbishop Pompallier by Pope Pius IX on the occasion of Bishop Pompallier’s visit to Rome in April 1847. He brought the Madonna back to Aotearoa New Zealand and had copies distributed widely. This work has now become known in New Zealand as “the Pompallier Madonna.” We offer you this copy of the Madonna as an appreciation of your own love far Mary and the frequent calls that you make far us to place all we do in Her hands.
We express the hope that you expressed so beautifully in the postsynodal apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Oceania”: “Through Christ’s Cross and Resurrection, God has reconciled the world to Himself, and He has made the Lord Jesus the Prince of Peace for every time and place. May Mary, Regina Pacis, help the peoples of Oceania to know this peace, and to share it with others.” We share this hope with you for the Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and for the whole region of Oceania.